First probable monkeypox case in Santa Cruz County diagnosed

A electron microscopic image of monkeypox virus
A electron microscopic image of monkeypox virus.
(Via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The patient is in isolation and in good condition, per county health officials. Though more than 5,000 monkeypox cases have been confirmed worldwide, experts say that the disease does not spread easily between people.

The Santa Cruz County Public Health Division announced Wednesday that the first probable case of monkeypox has been identified in a Santa Cruz County resident. The patient is in isolation and in good condition.

“We want to emphasize that this is not a disease that spreads easily through the air like COVID-19,” County Health Officer Gail Newel said in a news release, adding that most cases resolve on their own, but can be serious in rare instances. “However, we do want people who might have been exposed to watch for symptoms and to seek medical care if they develop symptoms.”

Those symptoms are most distinguished by a rash that can appear like pimples or blisters that appears on the hands, feet, chest, genitals or mouth. Other accompanying symptoms include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches/backache
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • chills and fatigue

Monkeypox, a close cousin of smallpox, has historically spread mostly within Central and West Africa, where it is endemic, or consistently present. This outbreak is the first time that the disease has spread widely outside of that region.

More than 5,000 cases have been confirmed globally. There has been one confirmed death, of an immunocompromised individual.

Deputy Health Officer David Ghilarducci told Lookout on Wednesday that the current outbreak is certainly raising eyebrows.

“It is kind of surprising to see it so widespread amongst many different countries,” he said. “In the past it would come up here and there, but we’re seeing it in places we traditionally would not, so it’s concerning.”

Though most cases are not serious, immunocompromised individuals and those with underlying health conditions like severe diabetes, cancer or HIV can make one more susceptible to serious illness. Still, Ghilarducci noted that the disease is very different from COVID-19.

“This is nothing like COVID in terms of communicability,” he said, adding that transmission generally requires close skin-to-skin contact, though it can theoretically spread through the air. “You typically won’t catch it going to a store or a social event. This is really more isolated among certain social groups.”

However, the monkeypox outbreak does echo the early days of COVID in one way: lack of testing.

“The biggest issue we’re having now is very little testing and minimal access to therapeutics,” said Ghilarducci. “At the beginning of COVID, it was really hard to know who was infected and who wasn’t, and we’re kind of reliving that past trauma from early 2020.”

According to Ghilarducci, testing is available through the state or a designated university lab. In order to get tested, though, one must contact a primary health care provider to get the testing request cleared with public health authorities.

One of the big differences between COVID and monkeypox is that monkeypox vaccines, borrowed from smallpox vaccine stores, already exist. That said, because monkeypox is not easily transmissible, a mass vaccination rollout is unlikely at this time.

“In this case, we would use a strategy called ring vaccination, which would mean vaccinating a ‘ring’ of close contacts around a confirmed case to try to contain the clusters,” said Ghilarducci.

Overall, though, the general public should not be overly concerned.

“I want to emphasize that the general public should not panic about this,” said Ghilarducci. “If you are in higher-risk groups, be watchful, but for most, I wouldn’t worry about doing anything different when you go to the store or a gathering.”

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